Discussion Boards

Writing for Discussion Boards: Conventions for Online Discussions

A person at a computer. On the computer, many different people are talking.

  • Use a specific subject line. Using a phrase such as “response to Jacob” for your subject doesn’t tell other readers anything about the content of your response. Be brief, yet specific (e.g., Errors in Watting’s Theories).
  • Keep to one main idea or topic per response. If you want to offer two different ideas, do separate posts.
  • Differentiate between starting a discussion thread and responding to someone else’s posting. Most discussion boards use what’s called a “threaded discussion,” which means that responses are indented under an initial posting. This type of indentation provides a visual cue to a reader, allowing him to rapidly distinguish the different discussion topics or threads.
  • Write informally. There is no need for fancy language or sentence structure but check your spelling before you finalize the posting. Most systems have a spell-check function. If you’re not a good typist, you may want to compose your response with a word processor and then paste or upload it into the discussion board. This is also a good idea in case there are technological issues, which can cause you to lose a post. If you create your post in a word-processing program, you can save a back-up copy of your post.
  • Do not dominate the discussion. There’s no need to respond to absolutely every posting from every participant. Respond selectively. Often, a course instructor will let you know how much online participation she expects.
  • Be polite, and apply the rules of etiquette. Use standard capitalization and punctuation; do not use all caps, as this is considered “shouting” online; use symbols sparingly to indicate tone when you think that words alone may not convey your meaning fully or accurately.
  • Remember that a lot of people may have access to your posts on a discussion board: other students, your instructor, college technical staff, administrators, etc. Write accordingly.

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